Educational technology tips for teachers, librarians and schools.

What Do Your Students’ Digital Footprints Look Like?

What Do Your Students’ Digital Footprints Look Like?

By Oliver Schinkten

The integration of 21st century skills into school curriculum is one of the hottest topics in education. But, what are 21st century skills? If you ask educators and administrators, they will likely say:

  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking
  • Creative Thinking

While this is a good answer, many educators dislike the phrase “21st century skills.” Some feel that the phrase implies that these are new skills, which weren’t important in the past. Others feel that after going through the education system without an emphasis on these skills, they’re doing fine.

Both of these arguments seem logical, yet they’re missing the point.

Twenty years ago, our communication and collaboration methods were much different than they are now. There was no Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or texting. Twenty years ago, email was yet to surface as a popular form of communication. Now, we’re living in a rapidly changing world where the ways in which people communicate and collaborate are becoming more plentiful and evolving faster, not to mention many conversations are visible to millions of people online.

More: 5 Tips to Keep Kid Bloggers Safe

A study done by Microsoft shows how important these skills are in the 21st century: approximately 90 percent of hiring managers use social media websites to research potential hires. In the same study, 70 percent of these employers reported that they rejected candidates based on what they found out about them on social media sites.

“70 percent of employers reported that they rejected candidates based on what they found out about them on social media sites.”

It’s clear that students are entering a very different world. Students are now digital citizens, and their digital footprint, which is updated on almost a daily basis, will most likely have a major impact on their future. But, who is informing these students about this? Who is teaching these students the proper ways to use social media?

Over the past year I’ve talked to thousands of educators and discovered that there are many teachers and administrators who are unfamiliar with social media and the websites that students use to communicate. So the question is: whom are the experts teaching them how to be a good digital citizen? The answer: you, the teacher.

More: Inspiring Q&A With Vicki Davis, Cool Cat Teacher

The Lesson: Google Yourself

Recently, after discussing some of these trends, I had high school students Google themselves. Most of them were surprised at what was visible to the public. One student, who has aspirations of college scholarships for sports, was shocked to find his Twitter page ranking at the top of his Google search. It was littered with tweets using inappropriate language and one tweet in particular mentioned something negative about a teacher in the school. These students are smart, kind-hearted people, but are unknowingly digging themselves into a hole on social media.

“These students are smart, kind-hearted people, but are unknowingly digging themselves into a hole on social media.”

As students learn about these hiring trends and the impact of social media, they quickly realize that they need to be more thoughtful when communicating or collaborating online. Their first reaction, however, is to try deleting the negative things that appear on their accounts and promise to stop putting inappropriate and negative comments on their account.

While these are important steps in the process of learning how to be a good digital citizen, these students, as well as schools, teachers, and parents, are missing the most important point; avoiding negative posts on social media is not enough. Creating a positive digital footprint from the start is becoming incredibly important

Teaching Digital Citizenship

It’s important that teachers educate their students on the importance of their digital footprint and the potential impact it may have on their lives. But that’s just the start. You need to teach them how to create a positive digital footprint, collaborate online, share information they are passionate about, and connect with positive people. Here’s how:

  • Provide them with authentic projects to complete for authentic audiences in which they can make a positive impact on the world as they learn.
  • Help them share their success stories through blogs, social media sites and other forms of communication.
  • Recognize the importance of your students’ digital footprints and show them how to create a successful and positive online image.

While communicating and collaborating have always been important skills for humans, the 21st century has provided us with a whole new set of rules. Students are equipped with smart phones and computers in which they can send a message to the world with the click of a button. It is an important part of your job as an educator to learn this, teach this, and help your students develop a positive digital footprint that will have lasting effects on their success.

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